Social Commerce for Apartment Leasing: Keeping Tabs on an Evolving Trend

7 min read

How multifamily marketers are anticipating the preferences of potential renters.

Gen Z, Millennials and Baby Boomers are all spending more time than ever on social media platforms for news, entertainment and communication. And, to make purchases. Marketers are taking note, as should the multifamily industry.

Social commerce, as defined by Accenture, is “the integration of social experiences and e-commerce transactions in a single path to purchase, enabled by a platform.” According to the company nearly 64 percent of social media users (approximately 2 billion social buyers) have made a purchase on social media in the past year. And according to their new report, “Why Shopping’s Set for a Social Revolution,” the global social commerce industry is expected to grow from $492 billion in 2021 to $1.2 trillion by 2025. That’s three times as fast as traditional e-commerce.

“The steady rise in time spent on social media reflects how essential these platforms are in our daily life. They’re reshaping how people buy and sell, which provides platforms and brands with new opportunities for user experiences and revenue streams,” Robin Murdoch, global software and platforms industry lead, Accenture, said.

Gen Z and Millennials are expected to fuel this growth, accounting for 62 percent of global social commerce spend by 2025. Recent data, reported by Business of Apps, revealed that 98 percent of Gen Z own a smartphone and that in the third quarter of last year, they averaged more than four hours a day on apps (not including the time they spent gaming).

ILS to the Rescue

Increasingly, apartment prospects want to engage with communities in a social commerce setting within a social media platform. However, renting an apartment involves more steps and decisions than purchasing a pair of shoes. Savvy multifamily operators are aware that reducing friction and presenting apartment prospects with a streamlined experience is key to keeping their attention through the leasing process.

Eric Brown, entrepreneur and multifamily developer founder Urbane Apartments and Urbane Management, notes that the entire social commerce game changed in a matter of days to weeks during COVID. The Internet Listing Services (ILS) showing properties and units available for rent and sale suddenly found increased business in new places. “When the lockdown began, and self-guided tours were all the rage, many operators who maybe used an ILS at the lower tiers found themselves in a quandary,” Brown said. “They had little to no photos, no videos and no meaningful content to shift to online marketing and communication to rent apartments.”

According to Brown, the ILS helped many small- and medium-sized operators bridge the gap by shifting the sale from a lower-tier package to the top- or second-tier package with all the bells and whistles. “Operators went from having little to no online sharable content to having excellent photography, videos and aerial photography—enjoying leads from the enhanced packages.” When the monthly price went up, it was still more appealing than having to figure it out themselves and with much faster results. “The ILS made it easy and fast during the pandemic at a time when we were all scrambling.”

Targeting Specific Prospects

Targeted ads continue to be popular in attracting renters. Facebook’s advertising system, which also supports Instagram ads, offers a powerful targeting ability. Marketers can specify their audience’s location, demographics, interests, behaviors and more, and they can target people who have interacted with your brand and others like them.

“The old adage, ‘Hang out where your customers are’ is still true,” Brown said. “However, the power of targeted ads is beyond imagination. They go to the customer with such ease and subtleness. Just notice that if you are having a conversation and use the words ‘running shoes,’ suddenly you are getting Nike Ads in your Facebook feed.”

When Brown’s team at Urbane uses targeted ads, they create a landing page that enables the user/customer to bypass the Urbane website after they click on the ad. The landing page has calls to action and enables the prospect to self-schedule a tour in just two clicks. There are also pop-up bots to answer questions—some of which have a clear history of increasing leads/tours.

“I have always been a proponent of owned media (ie: your website), and I still am,” Brown said. “However, options like Google My Business are both popular and effective.” Google My Business is a free profile with photos, location, services and products that can increase visibility across Google services such as Google Search, Google Maps and Google Shopping. According to Brown, “They are fast and they bring you the most-clicked-on images in a nanosecond, give the prospect plenty of information and bypass the entire website experience.”

Morgan Properties has a different strategy. When they do a social ad, they don’t necessarily connect prospects to the home page of a particular property. Instead, they pick and choose where they want prospects to end up. Sometimes it’s the amenities landing page. “If you’re really pushing your units, then most likely you’ll direct them right to the floor plan page so they can start the process,” Kim Boland, director of digital marketing, Morgan Properties, said. “But it all depends on what you’re highlighting and where you want them to end up.”

Morgan Properties typically prefers Google paid clicks for social commerce. They use Facebook ads to highlight student housing properties when showing the benefits of living in a community that’s located near the college campus.

Potential Issues

Multifamily operators need to be more careful than ever when designing social media advertising to avoid Fair Housing lawsuits, Boland cautioned. Unless you’re working with an agency that can finesse the messaging, it can be problematic to appeal to a specific age group or demographic in a social ad. “Marketers are more wary now,” Boland said. “You might actually see fewer ads just because you can’t pinpoint a specific person due to Fair Housing.”

According to Boland, another issue with using social commerce in a multifamily setting is the lease. The prospect is handing over personal information such as social security number when they start the lease application, so they need to create a secure location with a log-in and password. By this time, the person has moved away from that initial click on the social ad. Creative marketers are providing a streamlined and friction-less experience where the prospect is unaware of which website or landing pages they have arrived to complete their transaction.

Best Strategies

“I am absolutely seeing multifamily operators and marketers use social media and social commerce to rent apartment homes,” Lisa Trosien, a multifamily marketing consultant, and ApartmentAllStars co-founder, said. “A figure that was mentioned at the 2022 Multifamily Social Media Summit is that approximately 60 percent of potential renters are utilizing social media to help the find a new apartment.”

Social commerce requires a strategy. “It’s not simply a matter of putting your property on social media sites. Think about your brand and what you wish to accomplish,” says Trosien. What’s working now? “Video, video, video,” she says. “As it has in recent years, video content continues to dominate social. You can see this on Instagram, Facebook, TikTok and other social media sites.”

One market to keep an eye on is the student housing industry. “They have a great handle on this and have been using it well for much longer than market rate, non-student properties,” Trosien said.

Influencers are still having their moment, but make sure you know what you’re doing before you set up an influencer program. “Micro influencers, those individuals with a more local, smaller social following may be a better fit for your property,” Trosien said. UGC (user generated content) is also a great way to get residents involved. Plus, it’s considered trustworthy content by social media users. Trosien added, “Who better to tell the story of what living at your property is like than a resident?”

Read the May 2022 issue of MHN.

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